Kyle Reese, The Terminator
I don’t necessarily consider Rotten Tomatoes a bellwether for my own critical appreciation of a film, but it says something that The Terminator (1984) has a perfect, 100% “fresh” rating out of 38 total reviews. I won’t argue with the critics; the first Terminator is still the best in my book. Others argue convincingly for Terminator 2, a fine sequel whose special effects were revolutionary for its time and remain spectacular now. However, in my opinion the first film is better plotted, and more compelling due to its uncompromising ruthlessness and non-stop narrative thrust. T2 is excellent but has a tad too much humor and playfulness injected into the script for my own tastes.
Part of my unabashed love for The Terminator may be nostalgia: I was a kid when I first saw the film and was simultaneously enthralled by the great action and visuals, and haunted by its apocalyptic vision of the future, one which seemed all too plausible—not Skynet or robots, mind you, but nuclear destruction. When The Terminator came out the cold war was still going on and a full-scale nuclear exchange between the United States and the Soviet Union was an all too real possibility. The grim television miniseries The Day After was frightening audiences at the time with the likely impact of a nuclear war, which promised instant annihilation for some, and a prolonged, painful death by radiation poisoning for the less fortunate. The Terminator seized on the fears of the age and a generation growing up with an omnipresent fear of atomic annihilation. I’ll never forget the ominous, mechanical opening theme, and the visceral image of the futuristic tank crushing a mound of skulls under its merciless track.